If you live in New York State and lie to that government about your income to reduce your taxes, you go to prison. If you’re criminally convicted of 17 counts of such lies — such tax fraud — you could spend a long time in prison.
But The Trump Organization, a New York corporation that was just convicted of 17 criminal counts of tax fraud, not only won’t “go to jail” but also won’t even be dissolved for its crimes.
Instead, it’ll pay a maximum $1.6 million fine that represents less money than just one of Trump’s several-criminally-implicated employees and relatives made off with by the company committing their fraud for the past 15 years.
When the senior executives of California’s private for-profit power utility PG&E made the very intentional decision to move cash into their own pockets through bonuses and dividends instead of making their power lines resilient enough to withstand severe winds, they also made the decision to let people die.
And, sure enough, PG&E pleaded guilty to those 84 killings for the 2018 Camp Fire caused by the failure of those very high-tension lines. The judge forced the CEO, Bill Johnson, to come to court to enter his company’s guilty plea to those deaths and say, “Guilty, your honor” 84 times. But neither he nor any executives at the company spent a single day in jail. Instead, the multi-billion-dollar company paid $3.5 million in fines.
Just two years earlier, PG&E had been convicted of causing the death of 8 other people through poor maintenance on a gas pipeline; they were still “on probation” for those deaths when they chose not to maintain 100-year-old high-tension towers leading to the Camp Fire.
Bizarrely, America has different standards for human criminals than corporate criminals, even though corporations kill around 40 times more Americans every year than do more mundane “normal” crooks.
Alfred Ruf poisoned his wife as part of a scheme to get rich off her life insurance. So did Dr. Gregory “Brent” Dennis, who was looking at a $2 million payout. Joshua Hunsucker poisoned his wife for a mere $250K in life insurance money, $80,000 of which he used to buy a boat. David L. Pettis poisoned his wife for $150,000.
I don’t know the names of the men who poisoned and killed my father and my brother Stan, but I know where they worked and why they did it: just like Ruf, Dennis, Hunsucker and Pettis, they intentionally and knowingly took actions they believed would result in death when they sold asbestos to my dad’s employer and got my brother addicted to tobacco.
The asbestos industry knew as early as the 1890s, and got definite confirmation in the 1940s, that their product caused mesothelioma, the particularly brutal lung cancer that killed my father.
Even today, their executives are trying to avoid responsibility for it: Johnson & Johnson was playing bankruptcy games to avoid paying for cancers caused by their asbestos-laced talcum powder, and not a single executive is even slightly worried about going to jail for all those dead women.
Same deal with the tobacco industry whose top CEOs lied to the faces of members of Congress in 1994 at the same time their industry has been killing over 500,000 Americans a year every year of my lifetime.
Like those four wife-killers, like the Trump Organization, like PG&E, they all did it for the money. But the CEOs and senior executives of America’s deadliest corporations made and get to keep a hell of a lot more money than Ruf, Dennis, Hunsucker and Pettis could ever imagine.
Ruf, Dennis, Hunsucker and Pettis are all in prison. The decision-makers who today are still promoting tobacco, using bankruptcy laws to avoid paying for asbestos deaths, and, like Trump, running companies that engage in tax fraud are living the high life in their mansions, private jets, and yachts.
And this only scratches the surface. In just the past year, thousands of Americans have been killed and tens of thousands rendered homeless by climate change-driven weather that men in the fossil fuel industry knew fifty years ago would happen as the result of their selling their products. For money.
Odds are none will ever see the inside of a jail cell, and their companies will never be dissolved.
There’s a lot of talk about “two standards of justice in America, one for the rich and another for everybody else.” But there’s a third standard of justice for corporations and their senior executives that commit crimes.
In the 1880s, conservatives on the Supreme Court bizarrely identified corporations as “persons” with human rights defined by the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
In a 1978 decision written by Lewis “Memo” Powell, the Court ruled that when corporations purchase the loyalty of politicians, the money used for those purchases was to no longer be called “bribes” but, instead, is “free speech” protected by the First Amendment. The doctrine was radically expanded in 2010 with Citizens United.
Neither corporate immunities apply, however, to the small businesses that make up more than 99% of all corporations and LLCs in America. It’s notoriously easy to “pierce the corporate veil” of a business with revenues not measured in the millions and directly go after what is typically the company’s sole stockholder.
So the “corporate crime” problem is limited to the handful of large corporations and their senior executives who regularly make decisions that destroy Americans’ lives.
And our federal government doesn’t even keep a database of them and their crimes, even though they cost Americans as much as $800 billion a year and hundreds of thousands of lost lives.
Senators Dick Durbin and Richard Blumenthal along with Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon have introduced legislation that would require the Justice Department to build and maintain the same sort of database for criminal corporations as it already does with criminal humans.
That’s right: nobody in our government is keeping track of all this corporate crime. And when these members of Congress proposed it happen, not a single Republican joined their effort.
Our Assistant Attorney General, Lisa Monaco, estimates that as many as 20 percent of all the major corporate crime in this country is committed by corporate “repeat offenders.” But nobody’s sure: it could be twice that percentage, or it could be a smaller percentage and far more widespread than anybody realizes.
Human criminals kill around 23,000 Americans a year, according to the FBI (which only tracks and publishes statistics on crimes committed by human persons).
The coal and tobacco companies alone kill more Americans every year than they employ. (Coal employs 51,795 and kills an estimated 52,105 according to the US Dept. of Health and Human Services; Tobacco employs 124,342 and kills 522,000 according to the same data.)
Republicans spent much of last month’s election screaming from the rafters about crime in America.
Democrats should do the same as we head toward 2024, targeting the real killers and thieves in this nation. Average Americans, who absolutely realize how corrupt this system is, will appreciate it.
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